by Christopher Allen
We booked the trip to Bangkok last-minute and just went. In her frenzy to leave the scene, Jennifer threw all our unwrapped Christmas presents into a big, black plastic bag. She looked like a down-market Santa’s helper walking toward the gate with that garbage bag over her shoulder, considerably lighter now that security got the liquid presents: cologne and body lotion from my mother and a jumbo jar of molasses from my brother.
“This one’s from your father. Tim?” Jennifer says. “Open it, Tim.” She puts the book-shaped present on my lap . . . and then my hands in the unwrapping position.
So I’m ripping the bow off Bill Bryson’s latest when I spot our plane taxiing toward the terminal.
“The A380,” Jennifer reads, “has larger windows than the 747 and more headroom. This one seats 525 passengers in three classes”—which explains the human ocean in the concourse—“and weighs 650 tons at takeoff.” She mashes her nose against the window. “That’s a big plane.”
“Why does Gary—”
“Don’t think about it, Tim.” She’s still ogling the massive plane. “We’re officially on vacation. In ten minutes you’ll be boarding ‘the largest passenger aircraft in the world.’ Merry Christmas, baby.” She’s speaking to the plane. “You’re ho-ho huge.”
“I’m never prepared for his cruelty.”
“Tim, listen to your beautiful wife: For. Give. Him. And go buy me a neck pillow.” She turns back to the window and starts singing “Silver Bells.”
She only wants me to seethe somewhere else, but I need to browse the airport’s bestseller shelf anyway—it’s always calming to spot my own novels. She’s right though: I should forgive. But she didn’t grow up with him.
Gary and I would always start out Tom-and-Jerry but end up Israeli-Palestinian. Though I tried to keep my guard up, I wasn’t steeled for an attack at Christmas—although statistics suggest one should be.
It started in June when Gary emailed me a story he’d written. He was obviously proud of it: “Check this out, little brother. Not bad, huh?” “Little brother” wasn’t a term of endearment. He was always a foot taller than I was, and he never missed an opportunity to let me know I was SMALL.
His prose was good yet conventional. I could acknowledge its worth, even if it was written by a brother who never bothers to communicate with me and who, when he does bother, always figures out a way to pin me to the floor with some sarcastic remark.
“Sir?” the elderly woman at the kiosk asks.
“You OK? Doll-babe, you’re shaking.”
“How much are these neck pillows? I can’t find a price.”
“They’re $14.99,” she says. “Do I need to call somebody, Doll-babe?”
“Don’t call me . . . I’m fine . . . really.” Handing her a twenty, I spot my latest novel on the bestseller shelf—fourth in the ranking. Respectable. I breathe more easily. I’m not small or anyone’s doll-babe, and I’m about to board the biggest plane in the world.
I replied to Gary’s email and told him the story had merit, which probably sounded more condescending than I’d meant it. He didn’t reply. While surfing the Internet in August I came across an ezine that published Gary’s type of story. The issue, due out in December, would make a great Christmas present. The story needed editing of course: the usual misspelled words, a few wonky sentences and one egregious dangling modifier. Then, before I hit SEND, I changed the name of the story from “Untitled” to “The Wishing.”
Flight UA 989 to Bangkok is ready for boarding at gate 15. First and Business class passengers board through the door on the left.
The acceptance came in October. Gary would be published for the first time, and I was going to be the hero. Since we rarely spoke, it was easy to keep the secret until Christmas Eve, but I had to tell my mother. She was elated but apprehensive. Had I considered the copyright laws? Had I asked Gary’s permission? Honestly, I hadn’t thought about asking him, but why wouldn’t he be grateful?
When Christmas came, I was too nervous to eat. I poked my potatoes as everyone ploughed through a ton of food: my mother’s broccoli casserole, green beans from the garden, squash and the driest turkey on the planet.
Thirty minutes later we were stuffed and planted in the den. As usual, Gary kept looking at his watch and making his let’s-get-this-over-with grunts. Although I’d hoped my present would be the evening’s climax, Gary grabbed it first and started picking at the tape.
“From Tiny Tim, my famous little brother.” He laughed. He never missed a chance.
I’d wrapped the hardcopy of the .pdf magazine in a shoebox: I wanted him to have something in his hand—not just words on a screen.
“Tim!” Jennifer shouts. She’s at the back of a long crowd-cum-queue inching toward two doors at the end of the concourse. “We’re boarding!”
When Gary finally opened the shoebox, he stared at the papers for a few seconds. “What is this?”
“Turn to page fourteen.” I beamed. I knew I was scoring points. He was finally going to hug me and tell me what a grand brother I was.
“I don’t understand.”
“I submitted it to the ezine and—”
“You did what?”
I started to explain, but he cut me off again: “Without asking me? And you changed the fucking title.” He started flipping through the story. “What else did you change?”
“You changed other stuff?”
“Well, there were some misspelled—”
“God! You’re such an arrogant little prick.”
“It’s Christmas,” I heard my mother say.
“Who the hell asked you to submit my story? ‘The Wishing’?”
He was standing over me, fisting “The Wishing” so close to my face that I thought he might hit me with it. Instead, he grabbed his coat and left. Christmas was officially over.
“Tim,” Jennifer says. “You have to stop thinking about it.”
I’m shaking again. “I can’t.”
“Is that your phone beeping?”
I look down at the text message: “If you haven’t boarded, come home. Gary’s been in an accident.”
“Here’s your boarding pass,” Jennifer says, ripping the price tag off her new pink pillow and wrapping it around her neck. “What’s it say?”
“It’s just my mother wishing us a big time in Bangkok.”
Christopher Allen, a native Tennessean, lives in Germany. His story “Red Toy Soldier” took first prize in The Smoking Poet’s third annual short story contest. His creative non-fiction has appeared in Chicken Soup for the Soul and Gathering: Writers of Williamson County. For a complete list of publications visit his travel(b)logue at www.imustbeoff.blogspot.com.